Domestic violence is an insidious problem that negatively impacts everyone, even if you are not directly involved in a domestic violence situation. The CDC has classified domestic violence as a public health crisis and it’s easy to see why. Victims often have lifelong emotional and physical scars; children who grow up in violent homes can suffer developmental, cognitive, and emotional deficits; communities are impacted by violence through increased healthcare costs, and increases in female head of household homes are common. What’s more is that domestic violence is incredibly dangerous not just for victims and their children but for the helping professionals who intervene. It is extremely important to address this public health crisis on a community level in order to be effective.
In 2018, ACTS Domestic Violence Services partnered with Prince William County Police Department (PWCPD) to implement LAP- the Lethality Assessment Program. LAP is a multipronged approach to assess danger for domestic violence victims, safety-plan, reduce lethality, protect victims, children and police officers. According to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, “the purpose of the LAP is to save lives by connecting victims to life-saving, community-based services; hold abusers accountable; and create awareness of lethality factors with victims and communities”Ref 1. When officers arrive to a domestic violence call, they conduct a lethality screen with the victim in order to assess danger and risk of lethality.
The lethality screen is comprised of a series of research and evidenced based indicators of risk. Based on the victim’s responses and/or officer belief, an officer will connect the victim to an ACTS Domestic Violence Services advocate. Advocates speak with both the victim and the police officer in order to assess the situation, safety-plan with the victim, and provide other services such as safe shelter, and court accompaniment for protective orders.
ACTS partnership with the PWCPD has been vital to identifying high-risk victims and providing needed community services in order to help victims safely leave violent relationships. According to ACTS data of LAP clients since 2018, 86% of victims screened as "high danger" based on the LAP instrument. It is clear that the screening tool is vital to determining victim risk and determining high danger situations. Ultimately, being able to determine risk is safer for victims and police officers. Of all clients who screened as high danger, 36% of victims reported the offender had access to at least one firearm.
The importance of identifying perpetrators with weapons cannot be overstated, especially when considering that abusers with access to a gun are five times more likely to kill their victim and that every month 53 women are shot and killed by their intimate partnersRef 2. Additionally, identifying perpetrators with weapons is a matter of public safety especially for the officers responding to domestic violence calls. The 2016 murders of domestic violence victim Crystal Hamilton and PWCPD Officer Ashley Guindon, as well as the serious injuries of PWCPD Officers McKeown and Hempen are a harrowing reminder of the very real risk and danger in domestic violence situations. Domestic violence is never routine, always poses a very real threat, and the risk of lethality should never be diminished.
“The LAP protocol — an 11-item screener conducted by law enforcement as well as other allied professionals — focuses on identifying those who are most at risk of becoming a homicide victim or experiencing a serious, lethal-like assault”Ref 3.
Additionally, considering that 70% of LAP clients have reported being strangled by their abuser and 55% reported being stalked, it is clear that identifying high-risk is imperative for personal and public safety.
Ultimately, since 2018, 92% of all LAP clients have agreed to speak with an ACTS Domestic Violence Advocate, where we are able to immediately connect them to services and safety-plan. Of this 92%, over half of clients engaged in domestic violence services for the first time. Early intervention is a necessary prevention strategy for addressing this crisis on a community level. Safety for everyone is paramount as we continue to focus on preventative strategies and victim-centered advocacy in our community.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, reach out to ACTS 24/7 Domestic Violence Hotline at 703-221-4951. You are not alone and there is hope.